I’m fine with dandelions in my lawn. Long ago, as an organic gardener, who was not going to use weed killer, I spent hours digging up dandelions from my lawn. I thought if I was vigilant I’d get rid of them eventually. (I didn’t) Even without dandelions, my lawn was not picture perfect, it’s always been full of what would be considered non-lawn elements: a mixed groundcover of grass and weeds. When mowed, it’s green, fine to walk on or even to play a game of croquet. Somehow I still had the notion—like many in our pro-lawn culture—that dandelions should not be part of the mix.
Why the dandelion-specific prejudice? Why have they been singled out as a lawn’s worst enemy? They don’t prick, they don’t make you itch, and the flowers are pretty. Ask any kid who has picked a bouquet for a parent. Below I consider why dandelions may have gotten such a bad rap, along with some thoughts that may shift a negative view.
1. They’re so obvious! The brilliant yellow screams at you, “We’re here, we’re here!” A green plantain can slink off into the background, but not a dandelion. TV commercials for weed killers play on this—portraying the sight of the first dandelion as a major household crisis—and it helps sell a lot of chemicals.
Lawn chemical companies have done much to create the North American lawn fetish: It Must All Be Green. But really, what is so wrong with a lawn that sprouts cheerful yellow blossoms in spring? What makes us perceive the yellow colour of a dandelion as bad, when a yellow marigold is simply pretty? A dandelion is simply a flower, a wild flower, and one that serves a necessary purpose for bees and other pollinators, as one of the very first to bloom in spring. If we got rid of all our dandelions, bees would have no freely available nectar.
A few years ago, Toronto took the step of no longer using poisons in parks and roadside grass, and it makes me love this time of year, seeing the green and yellow mixed together all over the city.
2. The seed puffs. To many, especially homeowner associations they spell neglect. There’s the fear of contagion. Dandelions seeds are cooties, and we don’t want them on us, or on our lawns. It’s true, the seeds do travel, but we should be glad they do. The fact that their seeds are so easily spread has helped the ecosystem. Plants create soil by rotting and making humus. If there was no soil, there would be no food. Plants do this for us and dandelions do it particularly well. Plant scientists and permaculture experts call them dynamic accumulators: their long tap roots bring nutrients from deep in the ground up to the surface, where they improve the soil fertility.
3. Their raggedy leaves. It’s true that the leaves of the dandelion won’t win any beauty contests. They’re pointy and twisty and just generally messy-looking. But that serrated edge is what gives dandelions their name, the tooth of the lion, (dents de lion) in French. These toothy, fleshy leaves are perfect for green compost. If I find one in a flower bed, I rip the leaves up and leave them on the surface of the soil to rot where they grow. They are making my soil better every time I do this. And those raggedy leaves are edible, as are the flowerheads. See how to make dandelion fritters in the video below. Dandelions are food for the soil, and food for people.
How do you feel about dandelions, do you fight or embrace them? Let us know, and share any recipes in the comments section.